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Located in the Northeast of Brazil, the state of Maranhão has gorgeous landscapes and stunning culture. Its capital, São Luís is considered the Brazilian Lisbon. Its population has reinvented reggae dance. And its national park is a unique natural space in Brazil! You will discover how all these treasures were created by reading our article.

São Luís, crossroads of cultures

São Luis is the capital of the state of Maranhão, located on the island of the same name. The city was founded by a French colony in 1612. The settlers called it “Saint-Louis” as a tribute to the young and holy king Louis XIII. It is the only state capital of Brazil that was not founded by Portuguese. The name of Saint-Louis has been preserved by the local population. Later, the city was occupied by the Dutch and then by the Portuguese.

Building's facade in São Luis
Building’s facade in São Luis – Pixabay

The historical center goes back to the end of the 17th century. Many buildings are from that time because the economy was flourishing then. The whole area was declared World Heritage Site in 1997. The facades of the buildings are decorated with Azulejos. These are painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework decorated with geometric patterns or figurative representations. This craft reached its peak in the 18th century in Portugal. This style gives São Luis a Brazilian Lisbon look.

Alcântara, the former capital of Maranhão

Facing the island of São Luis, on the mainland is the city of Alcântara. To get there, you have to cross the bay on a one-hour boat trip. Founded in 1648, it is a colonial-style town. It was the capital of Maranhão before the rise of São Luis. This small town is rarely visited by tourists. The cobbled streets and small squares create a countryside atmosphere. The more or less well-preserved historical buildings give it its charm. It is a real return to the past.

Brazilian Reggae

As early as 1970, reggae music that is spreading in the Caribbean reached São Luís. Brazilians are seduced by this new music mixing romanticism and African sounds. During the 80s, many bands sprang up on the national scene. The city is crowned capital of reggae in Brazil. Every 2 years, a festival with a global reach, the Maranhão Roots Reggae is organized.

But São Luís has reinvented this culture by proposing to dance reggae for two! It was played in parties where beats like the lambada were danced. That’s how this foreign rhythm started to be danced in pairs.

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park

To the east of São Luis is located the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park. Its area of 155,000 ha is covered by a set of dunes and lagoons. Three climates, equatorial, tropical and semi-arid, meet to create this unusual landscape. The diverse wildlife consists of crabs, sea turtles and migratory birds. The park was created in 1981 to protect this incredible ecosystem. As a result, tourist vehicles are not allowed. It has become a paradise for photographers and is also one of the most beautiful trekking destinations in South America. And after a good walk, it is possible to swim in the fresh and temperate waters of the lagoons. 

But that’s not all…the park is considered as one of the best kiteboarding spots.

Dunes and lagoons of the Lençóis Maranhenses – Paulo Cattelan

The wonders of the Parnaíba Delta

Red ibis mangrove Brazil

The Rio Parnaíba is a river that defines the state of Maranhão for most of its course. Before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, it forms one of the largest deltas in the world. It is composed of a mosaic of islands, mangroves and dunes. The Rio Parnaíba Delta is a protected area. It is a breeding sanctuary for many migratory species. Boat trips are an opportunity to see the famous red ibis. The community of fishermen, crab hunters and craftsmen live together in harmony with nature.

A natural heritage to be protected

Brazil’s biodiversity is severely impacted by human activity. 63% of the country is covered by the Amazon rainforest. In addition to producing river water and absorbing CO2, the forest shelters 10% of all the world’s species. To make the most of it, a road network has been set up. In order to do this, the forest has been deforested. Once it became accessible, the populations of the Nordeste region came to colonize it. But the exhausted soils could no longer produce food. The farmers must continue to advance in the forest. And continue to clear it.


The historical aspect of the Northeast region also attracts many tourists. This is where the Portuguese landed to discover Brazil. Preserving this natural heritage is the credo of the actors of sustainable tourism in Brazil.

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